Monday, January 21, 2008

Rejuvenating Through Collaboration

I am just back from presenting at the California Kindergarten Conference in Santa Clara this past weekend. Although I am physically tired, from preparing all last week for the presentation and for exhibiting my materials at the booth, I am revived and energized by the incredible people I met this weekend. When I have the chance to talk with and share ideas with educators who share my passion, I feel alive, inspired and ready to go back into the classroom like it's the first day of school! To many people the idea of hanging out at a professional conference on a 3 day holiday weekend wouldn't be their first choice activity; however, the turnout at the conference is a testament to the commitment of teachers and professionals committed to quality early childhood education.

I met several teachers who were either newly retired or retiring in a year. My first reaction, as you might guess, was : What, on earth, I thought, could they possibly still have to learn? Upon talking with them, and listening to their concerns about the complex needs of children today, I realized that great teachers always know there is more to learn. They are out seeking, mentoring others, finding new ideas and inspiration to fuel their passions. So many teachers leave the field of teaching every year; I wonder if they would leave had they experienced the types of validating conversations I had this past weekend.

Not only did I find inspiration from teachers, but also from people whose livelihoods rest on supplying teachers with quality materials. I was fortunate to exhibit in a booth right next door to a wonderful couple, Judy and Russ from Artfelt. Judy is an amazing teacher and storyteller in her own right, coordinating her beautifully created felt puppets with children's literature. She gives teachers amazing lesson plans and helps make material intelligible through puppets and play for young children. She is able to connect the literature to the standards we teach using the gifts of play and imagination. It's a shame that with all of the pressure for teachers to teach to the standards we often neglect the "play tools" like puppets that can create a positive environment and engage students in powerful reading comprehension activities. Who can't listen when a puppet is talking?

I also ran into a fun and talented couple, Ron and Nancy Brown, both educators who began their company "Intelli-tunes" several years ago. I met Ron and Nancy last year at the California Kindergarten Conference and they shared their wisdom of educating teachers over the years through their music and presentations. I can't say enough how wonderful it is when there is a kinship and not a competition among exhibitors and presenters. I love their work and how it inspires teachers to use a variety of modalities in teaching to the standards!

Finally, I was able to catch up with a former colleague from Modesto City Schools, Ron Boren who has written some great songs that I use in my classroom every day. When we get together and share ideas I get re-inspired to go back to the drawing board with some new ideas. Besides that aspect, he is funny and doesn't take things too seriously in the business of presenting to teachers. He is entertaining, educating and ensures that teachers take that fun back to the classroom with them.

Maybe I am more of an extrovert that I had thought before! Even after talking all weekend, I am ready to create more, address the needs of the various learners in my classroom and go back to school ready to tackle the challenges that come my way. Collaboration is truly a gift that all educators need an opportunity to experience.

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